Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Music Video - Timmy T - One More Try

Music Video - Michael Jackson - Black Or White

Video Report - Russian Army Celebrates Day of Strategic Missile Forces

India cozies up to Taiwan in foolish move

By Deng Xiaoci

Strengthened ties between the two a threat to Sino-Indian relations.

India and Taiwan island signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on December 14 to promote mutual industrial cooperation, an alarming move that could sabotage the recent smoothing of Sino-Indian relations, said Chinese experts on Tuesday.

According to a statement in Chinese on Taiwan's "ministry of foreign affairs" website on Monday, Taipei Economic Cultural Center in Delhi representative Chung-Kwang Tien and Director General of the India-Taipei Association Sridharan Madhusudhanan signed the MoU to deepen two-way exchanges and cooperation between India and Taiwan.

In Chinese, the statement refers that the trade agreement is signed between "two nations." Nevertheless, Global Times reporters found that the English version of the statement has not yet been displayed on their website.

"It is a classic move of Tsai Ing-wen and the 'ruling' Democratic Progressive Party, as they constantly tout their dangerous political agenda of 'Taiwan-independence' and are afraid of being exposed and challenged in a bigger context outside the island," Hu Shiqing, a researcher at the Taiwan Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Since Tsai pushed forward the New Southbound Policy in May 2016, five cooperative documents have been signed between the two sides, serving as evidence of the strengthened relations and the potentiality of deepening cooperation in all fields, the statement said.

India is Taiwan's 18th largest trading partner, and the total volume of two-way trade exceeded $4.7 billion in the first nine months of 2017, a 40 percent year-on-year increase, according to the statement.

India is using the Taiwan question as a bargaining chip in exchange for China's support and concession on its own territorial disputes. It is also possible that India is staying close with Taiwan to serve as a friendly signal toward the US, which just released a new national security strategy branding China as a "rival power," Wang Dehua, head of the Institute for South and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Municipal Center for International Studies, told the Global Times.

The move is again testing Sino-Indian ties, and is harmful to both sides in the long run. It also came shortly after the Russia-India-China foreign ministerial meeting was held in the Indian capital on December 11, which was believed to have smoothed over Sino-Indian relations after the Doklam standoff between the two sides, Wang said.

Qian Feng, a researcher of the Chinese Association for South Asian Studies told the Global Times that as Taiwan has made efforts to strengthen ties with New Delhi over the past years, the South Asian power should be smart and cautious in order to avoid challenging China's bottom line and one-China policy. China does not take such situations related to its core interests lightly, Qian said.

Big Brother is watching? New Facebook facial recognition spots you even if you’re not tagged

The world’s largest social network has just rolled out a new feature of its facial recognition technology that will notify users when someone has uploaded a photo of them even if they haven’t been tagged in it on Facebook. The new feature sprang into action Tuesday. Facebook says it will “help people better manage their identity” on the platform “using face recognition.” Though not all of the network’s over 2 billion users will be able to avail of the new feature as those in the European Union and Canada are excluded due to privacy laws which prohibit Facebook's use of facial recognition.
Under EU law, personal data can only be gathered legally under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose. Furthermore, “persons or organisations which collect and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by EU law.”
Once Facebook identifies an image it thinks your face is in, it will send a notification to a new Photo Review feature, much like the Timeline Review feature when someone tags you in a post.
Within the review section, users can then choose to tag themselves, send a message to the person who uploaded the photo, report the image for breaking the site’s rules or let Facebook know if the photo isn’t of them.
“These new features help you find photos that you’re not tagged in and help you detect when others might be attempting to use your image as their profile picture,” Joaquin Quinonero Candela, Facebook’s Director of Applied Machine Learning wrote.
Users can opt out of this new feature as Candela explains: “If your tag suggestions setting is currently set to “none,” then your default face recognition setting will be set to “off” and will remain that way until you decide to change it.” However if it is not, the user will have to opt-out.
This all sounds rosy, with Facebook just being the nice guy and allowing you better control over content about you but posted by others, but of course, it benefits the company too. More notifications equals more activity which in turn results in more ad impressions, the same can be said in relation to tagging.


As #Yemeni children starve, Britons must speak out: ‘Not in our name’

Owen Jones
Our continued silence gives carte blanche for our government to maintain its sordid support for the Saudi’s onslaught against civilians and human rights.
It is perhaps the world’s most expensive home: a French mansion featuring marble statues and “a 57-acre landscape park” worth more than $300m, snapped up by the heir to the Saudi throne. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on quite the shopping spree: a $500m yacht here, a $450m Leonardo da Vinci painting here. As this despot showers himself in decadent luxury, the children of Yemen are starving as Saudi bombs – many supplied courtesy of the British government – destroy the country.
It is one of the greatest crimes on earth, so it is welcome that, today, 350 high-profile figures – Nobel peace prize laureates and celebrities among them – have signed a letter demanding the leaders of France, the US and the UK stop “stoking the flames of war”. The barbarous Saudi regime is being armed and supported by the west as it pummels Yemen.
Our governments all share responsibility for the 60,000 who have died in the 1,000-day war, the 17.8 million without access to enough food, and the 22 million in need of humanitarian aid and protection. It is estimated that nearly a third of the Saudi-led air strikes have targeted non-military sites: farms, market places, food storage sites among them. In one recent Saudi airstrike, a dozen women were reported dead after returning home from a wedding procession. These are crimes that receive little coverage – but don’t turn away, because they are being committed in our name.
The Tory government has offered a derisory £50m extra in aid for food and fuel supplies: like setting fire to a neighbour’s house, then slipping a tenner through the charred letterbox. Even Samantha Power – Barack Obama’s former ambassador to the UN – has admitted that the US is “wrong (as were we in last admin) to keep supporting Saudi-led coalition as it kills civilians w/ impunity & blocks medicine/food/fuel supplies in face of looming famine.” It is a little late now to admit guilt, and Obama should be troubled by the horror he helped to unleash. But this confession certainly underlines what a catastrophe the western-backed Saudi war represents.
Having written about the nightmare of Yemen, and visited a refugee camp across the water in Djibouti, it is deeply dispiriting how ignored it remains. Our continued silence gives carte blanche for our government to maintain its sordid support for the Saudis’ onslaught against civilians and human rights. The children will continue to silently starve, the civilians to silently perish under British-supplied bombs. It is surely time for us all to speak out about what is done in our name.

Video Report - British aid for Syria being funneled to extremists

Dec 4, 2017

#Yemen: 1,000 days of war

By Karl Schembri

Thousands of public service employees across Yemen have not been paid their salaries for more than a year and a half.

One thousand days of war in Yemen: thousands killed, tens of thousands wounded, and millions pushed towards famine.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is entirely man-made, the result of three years of brutal violence and insidious tactics that continue to deprive millions of people of basic supplies and services.
A staggering 1.2 million civil servants haven't received their salaries in more than a year, leaving health, education, and sanitation services without the people and resources needed to keep them running. Public infrastructure has been damaged and homes destroyed, forcing more than three million to flee their homes, most with only what they can carry. People living in congested conditions have too little access to money, food, water and medicine.
Prices are up but purchasing power is down, forcing people to make difficult choices with the few resources they have - water or transport to hospital? Medicine or food?
Wednesday marks 1,000 days since the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing rebel forces who seized the capital, Sanaa, and other territory during a lightning-quick offensive. 
Today, the Saudi-led coalition's ongoing blockade on commercial fuel is choking a struggling population, and obstructions from the Houthi rebel authorities within Yemen prevent what there is from reaching people.
As a result, water pumps are switched off, hospital generators stop running, the cost of transport is out of reach and 22.2 million people in Yemen now depend on humanitarian aid.
About 16 million people cannot access safe water or healthcare, 4.5 million children are at risk of losing access to education, 8.4 million Yemenis are close to starvation.
The following photo story collected from Yemen by the Norwegian Refugee Council sheds light on the devastating impact of the last 1,000 days on ordinary Yemenis.

A man points at his house destroyed by air strikes in Sanaa. Destruction in the Yemeni capital is everywhere: houses, health centres, wedding halls, and even children's playgrounds have been targeted by the raids. [Karl Schembri/NRC/Al Jazeera]

A man walks by civilian houses destroyed in Sanaa. [Karl Schembri/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Ali Mothana Ali, 50, from al-Dhalea, was seriously wounded when his house was hit. "The air strike that hit my house, it caught me just outside my home. Shrapnel from the explosion hit me. I sustained facial injuries, splinters had to be extracted from my pelvis, and metal sliced off part of my leg. I survived because neighbours rushed me to a nearby village for treatment. With my injuries, I am disabled. I cannot work to feed my children. I am the only bread winner for my family, my oldest son is 10 years old." [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Fighting has also been fierce outside of Sanaa, displacing up to three million Yemenis across the country. Molok, from Saada, had to flee with her children and grandchildren together with 460 families when their neighbourhood was bombed more than two years ago. She has been living in an informal settlement in Houth ever since. [Alvhild Stromme/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Only a photograph and a lot of rubble is what remains of Omar's former home in Taiz. "It took me 10 years to build this house, stone by stone, to make sure my children have a roof over their heads. It was gone in a blink." In late 2015, armed groups ordered him to leave; his village had become a battleground. Omar and his family fled the house just days before it was leveled by air strikes. [Nuha Mohammed /NRC/Al Jazeera]

Mahmoud Zeid and his wife Sabah speak of the day they fled their home in July 2015, following an air strike close to their neighbourhood in Jabal al-Nugm. Mahmoud used to work as a tailor, but since the war and blockade started he no longer has a job. Sabah suffers from kidney failure. They have six children. NRC provides them with food aid in a project funded by the UN's World Food Programme. Mahmoud said: "We have to survive. There is no food, no spending money like there used to be. We get a plate or two of food and get on with it. Even then we don't even have cooking gas." [Karl Schembri/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Wedad is a single mother with four children from Amran. She says the dramatic hunger and poverty she's been pushed into makes her prefer to die. "I pray God, please let us die or solve this, or let us die silently - that people would wake up in the morning and find us dead. It cannot be worse than what we have been through already. We felt the hunger, we felt the cold, we have been through everything." [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Amani, 12, from Taiz lost her father and has been displaced ever since. "The clashes got intense and we were the last family to escape from the village. We fled to a safer place and knew our father was a little way behind us when a shell hit and killed him. He died on the spot but we did not know. We kept calling his phone but got no answer and only later we heard he was dead. Everything is bad about fleeing your home: here there is no water, no firewood, we have nothing. Back home we had everything. I used to go to school, but now I cannot. I am afraid of the war; the scariest thing is hearing the bombs, the shotguns and the shells. We were terrified. We were hiding in our room and fearing death." [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Ahlam, 4, has spent two years in an informal settlement outside Houth in northern Yemen, living in extremely dire conditions. Her family fled from Saada in 2015 after their neighbourhood came under attack. [Alvhild Stromme/NRC/Al Jazeera]

In this settlement outside Houth, Obaid, 9, (left) and his friend Modrek collect empty plastic bottles to sell for recycling. "If we collect one full, large bag, we get 150 Yemeni rials [US$0.60]," said Obaid. "I used to go to school. I like studying. But there is no school here." As the war continues, millions of children in Yemen, a country where only 60 percent of the population could read and write before the war, are deprived of an education. [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

The crisis in Yemen is brutal on children, many of whom are dying of starvation and acute malnutrition. Amani is a five-month-old baby weighing only 2kg. Here she is in the malnutrition section of al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa. "Our neighbours gave us money to take Amani to the hospital," her mother Fatima said. "I’m so worried that once we're out of here we won't find enough food for my baby." [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Mohammed's family travelled by road for close to 15 hours through several checkpoints to reach al-Sabeen Hospital with their malnourished child. "We had no choice, there are no functioning facilities in our area now," his father Waheeb said. "There is nothing." At two years of age, Mohammed weighs 5.9kg and cannot sit unassisted. [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

One-year-old Fatima weighs 4.2kg. She was brought to al-Sabeen Hospital by her mother when she became unwell and developed a fever and has since been receiving care for acute malnutrition. Fatima is one of four children but failing to thrive like her older siblings. A collapsing economy and impediments to the movement of humanitarian supplies have left millions of Yemenis in urgent need of life-saving aid and protection. [Nuha Mohammed/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Yemenis queue at a food voucher distribution point in Sanaa. The Norwegian Refugee Council is helping some of the hardest-hit families with food vouchers and other assistance. A staggering 8.4 million Yemenis are now close to starvation after 1,000 days of war and a blockade of food, fuel and medicine. [Karl Schembri/NRC/Al Jazeera]

Dr Zikra Abdullah Saif works at al-Sabeen Hospital in Sanaa. "Our tragedy now is that we cannot do our job the way we should, while we are struggling for our basic food. If the war continues and we keep being unpaid, we will have to flee to the villages. We will bring water from the well, plant, and live a simple way of life. We'll have to flee from the cities and live like people did in primitive times." [Karl Schembri/NRC/Al Jazeera]


Over 350 high-profile global figures have urged the US, Britain and France, the three Western backers of Saudi Arabia’s bloody offensive on Yemen, to use their UN Security Council seats and help ease the sufferings the Arab nation instead of fanning “the flames of war” there.
Nobel peace prize laureates, politicians, diplomats, former military generals, religious leaders and celebrities issued a statement addressed to US President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.
The statement marked the 1,000th day since the Saudi regime and a group of its vassal states unleashed a military campaign against Yemen, at a time when the Arabian Peninsula state was grappling with an internal conflict.
The Saudi offensive was launched in support of Yemen’s former Riyadh-friendly government and against the country’s Houthi Ansarullah movement, which has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective administration.
“December 2017 marks 1000 days of a war that has turned the Middle East’s poorest country into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, leaving Yemen ravaged by preventable diseases and on the verge of a historic famine,” the statement read.
Yemen is “at a tipping point,” it noted, criticizing the international community for failing to take action in order to bring an end to “the man-made catastrophe” there.
“The US, UK, and France, as permanent members of the UN Security Council and major weapons suppliers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, bear a special responsibility to use the full extent of their leverage to press their partners in the region to end the crisis. Instead of stoking the flames of a war that is strangling an entire population and risks destabilizing the entire region, they could be the brokers of peace,” the statement read.
The three have been the biggest arms suppliers to the Saudi regime since the war on Yemen broke out, according to a report by the campaign group Control Arms in September.
Since the onset of the war, the Saudi-led coalition has imposed a naval and aerial blockade on Yemen under the pretext of blocking alleged arms supplies to the Houthi fighters. The siege, however, has caused severe shortages of food and medicine, endangering the lives of millions of aid-reliant Yemeni citizens.
The Western-backed offensive has, however, achieved neither of its goals as it has been met with stiff resistance from Ansarullah fighters and popular groups.
The statement further warned that the blockade “has made an already catastrophic situation worse. It has barred delivery of life-saving food, medicines and fuel, leading to hospitals shutting down, and whole cities without clean water or working sanitation.”
“To prevent further catastrophe and famine, Yemen needs an immediate ceasefire; an end to all blockages on access for food, fuel and medical supplies; and investment in a new, inclusive peace process,” it added.
“If you don’t want the burden of the lives of thousands more Yemeni children on your hands, then the time to act is now. Yemen can’t wait any longer," the statement concluded, addressing Trump, May and Macron.
The Saudi-led war has so far killed more than 12,000 people and led to a humanitarian crisis as well as a deadly cholera outbreak in Yemen.
Last month, the Riyadh military angered the world community and international rights groups by tightening the already-crippling blockade after Yemeni forces fired a retaliatory missile that hit near an airport in the Saudi capital.

Video Report - ‘Saudis using starvation as weapon in Yemen, breach intl law’ – UK govt

Trump’s National Security Strategy Is a Farce

The Trump Administration has put out its new national security strategy. This is a farce. On any one issue, President Trump and his team have several contradictory positions. That’s what happens when your priority as president is to use foreign policy to throw red meat to your base while other cabinet members are scrambling to stop Armageddon.
“It’s impossible to know what the United States position is on any number of subjects,” a European ambassador told me last week. “We could go sleepwalking into a war.”
Let’s start with North Korea, whose small but growing nuclear arsenal is overseen by Kim Jong-un, a leader as volatile as Trump. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump Administration’s policy toward North Korea is “really quite clear.” He said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.” That was Tuesday at the Atlantic Council. By Friday, at the United Nations, Tillerson was setting conditions.
North Korea must cease “threatening behavior” before talks can begin; it must “earn its way back to the table;” and pressure will “continue until denuclearization is achieved.”
Denuclearization is not going to happen in the real world. If that’s the condition, there will be no talks. As for Trump, he has said Tillerson is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” He has warned that the United States is “locked and loaded.” He has never embraced talks without preconditions, favored by France, Britain and sometimes Tillerson.
Clear enough already?
Oh, I should add that Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was not present when Tillerson spoke. Great optics there: Haley and Tillerson are known to be at loggerheads, with the secretary of state (regarded by some as a dead man walking) suspecting Haley wants to succeed him.
Now, effective pressure on North Korea has three components: China, China and China. Trump’s new national security strategy identifies China as “a strategic competitor.” It suggests the United States will get tough on Chinese “cheating or economic aggression.”
Great timing there: Trump is asking President Xi Jinping to cut off crude oil exports to North Korea as his “strategy” lambasts China. Our president believes everyone will do his bidding because he says so. Hello! You want a favor? You don’t double down on confrontation.
I mentioned red meat: war with North Korea, tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and promising to move the American embassy there some day — all this gets the blood up for Trump’s base. (Of course, words exceed action and appearance is all, as with everything in Trump’s world). I also mentioned Haley, who did not show up for Tillerson but put on quite a show over Iran the day before at a military base in Washington.
Before I get to the Haley show, involving some Iranian-made missiles “on loan from Saudi Arabia,” a little background on Iran is needed. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal sent the country’s nuclear program into reverse, guaranteed rigorous international inspections, and put the country much further from a bomb than it had been. In return, Iran got sanctions relief. The deal, concluded with the United States and five other world powers, is working. It was not intended to usher in an American-Iranian love-fest or realign Iranian policy in Syria. It was intended to stop Iran going nuclear. Tearing it up would be a colossal strategic error.
Tillerson recognizes this; he’s urged preservation of the deal. Trump calls it “the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated” and, in October, declined to recertify it. This kicked to Congress the issue of whether to reimpose sanctions within 60 days. It did not, and from what I hear the White House did not press for sanctions. (Remember, noise without action is Trump’s only discernible “national security strategy.”)
By mid-January, Trump has to decide whether to sign waivers on Iran sanctions. My guess is he will to avoid blowing up the deal. Meanwhile, the administration is reviewing whether to block Boeing’s agreed $20 billion sale of jetliners to Iran. So what’s the policy here? Show implacable hostility to Iran, possibly short of destroying the deal, barring a mishap.
Clear enough, already?
Enter Haley with her Iranian missiles of dubious provenance demonstrating no provable infringement of international law. What a performance! “Absolutely terrifying,” she declared, before saying that “the nuclear deal has done nothing to moderate the regime’s behavior in other areas.” It was not supposed to do that.
Iran has a nasty regime that does despicable things from time to time. It also has a substantial moderate wing, headed by President Hassan Rouhani. Moderates have been reinforced by the nuclear deal. The best way to lock in hard-liners for the next two decades would be to tear it up.
On North Korea and Iran, on Israel-Palestine and Syria and Saudi Arabia-Qatar, the Trump administration is all over the place. As Tillerson noted last week, it has no “wins” in diplomacy. That’s not surprising. It also has no national security strategy. It has outbursts.

Republicans Goof Up While Passing Tax Bill

By Matt Fuller and Arthur Delaney
The House will have to revote on the bill after the Senate passes a corrected version.
After years of false starts and failed promises, House Republicans had another one Tuesday ― they passed a tax bill with provisions that were struck down by the Senate parliamentarian.
Even though House Republicans already congratulated themselves in a series of speeches, the House will have to vote again on Wednesday, after the Senate passes the final tax bill. House Republicans had passed what they thought would be the final tax proposal on Tuesday 227-203, with 12 Republicans voting no.
But now the Senate will send back to the House a similar bill ― with the stricken provisions omitted ― before the tax legislation will go to President Donald Trump for his signature.
It’s a small gaffe, but one typical of this process. Republicans rushed a bill to the floor and ended up embarrassing themselves.
Still, this hiccup is just a formality. The bill will almost certainly pass the Senate, where it is expected to come up for a vote late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, and then clear the House with the same members voting for and against it.
The bill is, without a doubt,
Trump and the GOP Congress’ most significant legislative achievement since Republicans gained control of the House, Senate and White House.
But the “win” may end up costing Republicans. This bill is far from the congressional victory Republicans had sought to run on during next year’s midterm elections: It’s deeply unpopular, with approval ratings that were already significantly underwater and grew worse over the past few weeks as the legislation neared final passage.
A CNN poll in November showed 31 percent of voters viewing the tax bill favorably, with 45 percent opposing it. A poll conducted in the past week showed 33 percent supporting the bill, but 55 percent now against it.
When Senate Republicans passed their initial version of the measure just a few weeks ago, many Republicans didn’t care that the bill wasn’t popular. Republicans simply believed the lack of support was due to bad polling and voters not fully understanding the proposal.
Likewise, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Tuesday morning that he had “no concerns whatsoever.”
“I got to say, if people are out there on TV telling mistruths, disguising the facts of this thing, that’s going to make it unpopular,” Ryan said, adding that taxpayers will be happy when they see changes in their pay next year ― both from adjustments to taxes withheld from their paychecks and higher pay from booming business conditions.
But the facts of this bill are what make it unpopular. For one, the bill repeals the individual mandate in Obamacare, which would result in higher prices for people relying on Obamacare for health insurance. And far from a “middle-class tax cut,” as Trump and other Republicans promised, the measure is truly a massive corporate tax cut ― the top rate goes down from 35 percent to 21 percent ― and a smaller tax cut for individuals in the seven individual income brackets.
Independent analysts have said wealthy taxpayers would benefit the most, in large part because they pay more taxes from the start. But households at every income level would see a tax cut next year, according to an analysis of the conference bill from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which scores tax legislation for Congress.
Starting in 2021, however, some income groups would start seeing slightly higher rates. And because the proposal sets most individual cuts to expire in eight years ― a budget gimmick to reduce the bill’s cost in a 10-year budget window ― all households earning less than $75,000 would see higher taxes in 2027 (due in large part to the bill including an unfavorable permanent change to the way tax brackets are indexed to inflation)
Republicans have waved off concerns about the sunsetting tax cuts by saying a future Congress won’t let them expire. That’s a change from Ryan’s position earlier this year, when he insisted the cuts be permanent. In the end, Ryan got half his way ― the corporate tax cuts are permanent, but the individual reductions are not. Republicans finance these cuts, in part, by raising taxes on some people. The bill ends much of the state and local tax deduction, which lets filers write off the cost of their local taxes. As a compromise to some of the high-tax states most affected, the bill allows filers to deduct up to $10,000 of their local taxes by some combination of their choice. But that won’t be enough for many high-income people in states like New Jersey, New York and California. As with an earlier version of the bill, a number of Republicans from New Jersey and New York voted against the legislation, though most California Republicans still got onboard. Republicans chose a policy approach that came with a built-in political headache: They have been unable to guarantee that no household would face higher taxes under the plan even as it piles on all that debt.
If their bill simply cut tax rates, everybody would benefit. But because of the way the bill lowers rates while eliminating deductions ― thereby exposing more income to taxation in some cases ― Republicans have been unable guarantee a tax cut for everybody. So even though most households would be better off under the changes next year, some will be worse off. Still, the majority of the bill is “paid for” by increasing deficits. The measure would add $1.4 trillion to the national debt, the Joint Committee on Taxation said. Republicans have claimed that increased economic growth would boost business receipts and offset the revenue loss, though no credible economic analysis has shown that.
Republicans have largely ignored those criticisms by just focusing on how the tax cuts would boost the economy. They’ve also largely looked past the effects on housing, charitable giving and state budgets.
Those effects flow from a simplification of the tax code. The legislation would increase the standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for a married couple (an increase Republicans have falsely characterized as “doubling” the deduction). Currently, only about 30 percent of households find it worthwhile to “itemize” for expenses such as mortgage interest, charitable donations and local taxes. With the bigger standard deduction, experts say only 5 percent would.
While their tax filing process would be simpler, for many households, the tax incentive to take out a bigger mortgage or donate to charity would be smaller, which could squeeze housing markets and the nonprofit sector. And a new cap on the amount of local taxes that can be deducted would put pressure on state lawmakers to either reduce those taxes ― resulting in less revenue for priorities like public education ― or shift them to other sources that are still deductible, such as business payrolls.
“Don’t be a high-tax state,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said after the vote. “Be a low-tax state “
According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Senate parliamentarian said three provisions were ineligible for the fast-track process, including one measure allowing parents to use special 529 savings accounts for home-schooling expenses.
“In the mad dash to provide tax breaks for their billionaire campaign contributors, our Republican colleagues forgot to comply with the rules of the Senate,” Wyden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a joint statement.
The lead House author of the bill, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), has said he expects Congress will need to pass another bill next year to fix any mistakes in the tax bill.

Video Report - #CNN WOLF 12/19/17: #TAX BILL VOTE

Video Report - Blitzer presses Trump adviser: Has he read security document?

Video Report - Bernie Sanders Reprimands Republicans' Tax Cuts For The Rich

Pashto Music - Sardar Ali Takkar - ماله بله لاره نشته د جنون او د جانانه ګني خوښه مې خندا ده ، ډیره ډیره د ژړا نه عبدالغني خان

#Pakistan: Catholics denounce lethal bombing of Methodist church in #Quetta

The Dec. 17 attack was merely the latest on Christian targets in recent years, with scores of private Christian homes burned, churches looted and defiled, and private Christian citizens harassed and physically assaulted.

The Christian share of the population is only about 1.5 percent
After the bombing of a Methodist church in northwestern Pakistan that left nine people dead, the country’s Catholic-sponsored National Commission for Justice and Peace has condemned what it called “the cowardly and inhuman attack on the church and innocent worshippers.”

Sixty people were also injured in the Sunday bombing at Bethel Memorial Church, located in Quetta in northwestern Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. The assault has been credited to the Islamic State group.

While applauding security forces for their prompt intervention, the commission called upon the Pakistani government to do more to combat the violence perpetrated by militant Islamic movements.

“The commission calls upon the government to bring the perpetrators to justice and address extremist elements and root causes of this intolerance,” the statement said. “They further stress the need to tighten measures for protection of all citizens, especially during this time of Christmas.  They also request the community to cooperate with officials and extend their volunteer services for the protection and security of people during the Christmas season.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Lahore; Father Emmanuel Yousaf, national director of the commission; and Cecil S. Chaudhry, a layman who serves as the body’s executive director. The National Commission for Justice and Peace was founded in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“The uncertainty of life is inevitable, but precious lives lost in such an untimely manner are increasing in Pakistan,” the statement said.

“We thus pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that as a nation He may grant us strength, wisdom, tolerance and peace. May God give strength to the families of the victims to endure the loss of their loved ones and speedy recovery for the injured,” it said.

The commission’s statement also calls for the full implementation of a landmark June 19, 2014, ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court holding that freedom of religion must also include freedom of conscience, thought, expression, belief and faith, issued in the wake of the bombing of a church in Peshawar that killed 100 people.

Finally, the statement calls on government officials “to join hands with local church volunteers in providing them adequate training on emergency situations.”

The Dec. 17 attack was merely the latest on Christian targets in recent years, with scores of private Christian homes burned, churches looted and defiled, and private Christian citizens harassed and physically assaulted.

Although Christianity is one of the two largest non-Christian religions in Pakistan with an estimated 2.5 million adherents (the other being Hinduism), the Christian share of the population is only about 1.5 percent.

At times the climate of persecution of Christians in the country can become so intense that extreme measures may seem the only alternative to call attention to their plight. In 1998, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad shot himself to death in protest over the execution of a Christian man on trumped-up blasphemy charges brought by Muslim accusers.


It's time Pakistan banned the two-finger test for decoding consent in rape trials

By Zainab Z. Malik
2017 will go down in history as the year mainstream discourse on sexual violence was finally forced to confront the universal impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of assault.
Unfortunately, these global developments have failed to trigger any corresponding debate on the inability of Pakistan’s criminal justice system to provide redress to survivors.
In a country where conviction rates for rape are less than 4% and the National Police Bureau records an average of over 3,000 reported cases every year, the need for gender-sensitive legal and policy reform has never been more critical.
In recent years, any attempts to end impunity have focused on the introduction of piece-meal legislation, which whilst important for political visibility of the women’s movement, has failed to translate into increased conviction rates.
Key amongst the reasons underlying the limited impact of legislative developments in sexual assault is the central role played by gender stereotypes and biases in judicial proceedings in Pakistan. From the time of the registration of the complaint by the police to the sentencing of the perpetrator, whether or not the victim’s character is in line with what is deemed ‘chaste’ or ‘pure’ has a far greater bearing on the outcome of the case rather than the nature of the violation she has suffered.
Stereotypes pertaining to what is a ‘good woman’ remains the primary consideration for police, prosecutors and judges to decide whether or not a victim’s claim of rape deserves reliance.
In many ways, the decision to come forward and report the crime is the first instance where the criminal justice system begins to view the victim with suspicion.
It is presumed that a woman with honour would never bring shame upon herself by admitting that she had been raped. A ‘true victim’ in many ways is one that never comes forward.
Under the Pakistan Penal Code, Section 375, lack of consent on the part of the alleged victim is the primary ingredient for categorising an act of intercourse as rape. The existence of consent or lack thereof cannot be objectively quantified and thus it falls on the judge to decide whether or not to believe that a victim’s account is reliable. Reported judgments are littered with references to a victim’s ‘loose morals’ and ‘easy virtue’ which are taken as irrefutable evidence that she consented to the alleged act and thereby rendering her testimony as false. For instance, the Lahore High Court in Fahad Aziz v State (2008) disregarded the victim’s rape complaint as “she appeared to be a woman of easy virtue [and] indulged in sexual activities”.
Similarly in another decision by the Federal Shariat Court in 2006, the accused was acquitted of all rape charges as the “victim girl was of easy virtue and though she was unmarried and of 16 years, but had lost her virginity”.
The determinative nature of the victim’s character to judicial decision making is reinforced by reliance on outdated ‘medical’ tests called two-finger rape tests. A relic of British India, the archaic test involves inserting two fingers into the vagina of the victim in order to determine whether or not she is “habituated to sexual intercourse”.
The test is not a legal requirement but a medical practice that has become part of legal jurisprudence.
The affirmative findings of a test i.e. deeming the victim to be habituated to sexual intercourse if her vagina admits two fingers, are relied upon by courts to presume consent.
Thus a woman with a sexual history is assumed to consent forever more and therefore can never be raped. For instance, the Lahore High Court in Naveed Masih v The State(2008) refused to rely upon the statement of the victim as the “medical report revealed that hymen of victim was torn and vagina admitted two fingers easily”.
On the other hand, the Lahore High Court accepted the testimony of the victim in Amanullah v. State (2009) as “vagina admitted two finger tight fully and painfully which showed that sexual intercourse had been firstly committed with her [committed for the first time] and further that she was not a woman of easy virtue and was not used to committing sexual intercourse” [explanation added].
Former British colonies including India, Malaysia and Bangladesh have progressively began banning reliance on these tests.
There is a growing recognition that not only is there no scientific link between the laxity of one’s vagina and sexual history, a victim’s ‘character’ is irrelevant on the alleged act being adjudicated upon. Additionally, in order to protect victims, most countries have promulgated character-shield laws that bar the introduction of evidence pertaining to the character or sexual history.
However, not only does Pakistan continue to hold on to the two-finger test but its victims must withstand aspersions on their character and sexual histories during the course of the rape trial which often lasts for several years.
In fact, the character of the victim is the primary accused in the trial, with the conduct of the accused being a secondary consideration. It is thus little surprise that not only are convictions low, but victims themselves prefer to reach informal settlements with accused rather than put up with a trial.
Legal and policy reform barring gender stereotypes pertaining to the character of the victims from legal proceedings on sexual assault is urgently needed.
Whilst social norms pertaining to acceptable behaviour will not change overnight, the criminal justice system has an obligation to institute gender-sensitive mechanisms that provide adequate redress to victims without subjecting them to additional violations of their privacy and dignity.
Only then can the recent legislative amendments achieved their desired impact.